Search Results for "dualism"

Jan 15 2009

I’ll be on NPR

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Quick note for those who are interested, I will be interviewed on NPR Friday morning 9:30-10:30 Eastern time. The topic will be about dualism and the evolution of human consciousness. They tell me that Michael Egnor may also be on – should be interesting.


The interview went well, it was a 1 on 1 for about an hour. It was being recorded for future broadcast. I was told it will come out around Darwin’s birthday (Feb 12th) either on Morning Edition or All Things Considered.

As soon as they let me know exactly when I will post another update.

Urgent Update:

This is actually unrelated, but I was asked to be on JPR, a local Oregon NPR affiliate, right now!!!.

That is – 12:00-1:00pm Eastern Today.

You can stream live from here: (go to The Jefferson Exchange under News). Here is the link to the show description:

Download the podcast here (  – my interview is the second hour.


109 responses so far

Jan 15 2009

Sorry, Egnor, Your Pillars Are Still Shattered

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Michael Egnor, the creationist neurosurgeon who blogs over at the Discovery Institute, has been a busy beaver lately. He has written several entries on his side of the materialism vs dualism debate we’ve been having. I have been reading them, waiting for him to say something new I need to respond to, but mostly he is just reiterating the same points I have already refuted. Putting an old argument in a new form, or citing a new source, does not change the argument nor is it a response to refutation.

But now he has specifically responded to my previous post on the topic (although still not really addressing my points), and so a response from me is in order.

In a post titled, “It’s Time for Me to Unshatter My “Three Pillars of Neuroscience Denial,” Egnor tried and failed to refute my summary of his core logical fallacies.

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75 responses so far

Dec 12 2008

More Neuroscience Denial

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Dr. Michael Egnor has written two more posts reiterating his neuroscience denial over at the Discovery institute. This reinforces the impression that neuroscience denial is the “new creationism” – the new battleground against materialism as a basis for modern science. It is important to keep an eye on the arguments and tactics being developed by the DI to deny the core claim of neuroscience, that the mind is what the brain does. This is likely to be an increasing area of attention for the DI and others with an anti-scientific agenda.

Intellectual Dishonesty

Creationists are intellectually dishonest because they are not engaged in a genuine search for understanding, but rather have staked out an ideological position that they will defend at all costs. This applies as well to Dr. Egnor, who is ideologically dedicated to denying the obvious conclusion from the last century of neuroscience – that the brain causes mind.

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72 responses so far

Oct 28 2008

More on Methodological Naturalism

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My posts from last Thursday and Friday on materialism sparked an unusual amount of activity in the comments, which is always great. There is much great discussion and links to further reading. But I feel I did not make my position clear enough, and a longer clarification than is appropriate for the comments is needed.

Much of the confusion and disagreement seems to revolve around definitions – it is difficult to find common ground when people are using different specific definitions for the same words. This is a common problem in philosophy, which seems to multiple terms with subtle distinctions, and has been further magnified by the fact that I was partly confronting how other people (like ID proponents) are using terms, vs how philosophers define them, vs how the public perceives them. Confusion ensued.

Although this is probably obvious, I want to say for the record that I am not a philosopher. I am a scientist trying to understand philosophy as it pertains to science and skepticism. This probably causes as many problems as philosophers who are not scientists trying to understand the philosophy of science.

So as I crawl back through this discussion of methodological naturalism and materialism I will try to be careful about defining terms and in which context.

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69 responses so far

Oct 24 2008

Reports of the Demise of Materialism Are Premature – Part II

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Yesterday I wrote about the Wedge strategy of the intelligent design (ID) movement – namely to undermine and replace the materialist basis of modern science with something that conforms to their ideological spiritual beliefs. This anti-materialist agenda has been primarily targeted against evolution, but now seems to be shifting its attention to neuroscience.

An Unholy Alliance

The Wedge strategy of the Discovery Institute (DI) and other ID proponents is largely a Christian movement. It is interesting that they have found common ground with others who have a very different ideology but share in common a distaste for strict materialism because it is inconvenient to their spiritual agenda.

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167 responses so far

Oct 23 2008

Reports of the Demise of Materialism Are Premature

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The New Scientist has recently discovered what readers of this blog have known for a while – that the denial of materialist neuroscience is the “new creationism.”  In fact I have written extensively over the past year about the embrace by the Discovery Institute (an intelligent design group) of cartesian dualism, the notion that the mind is a different substance from the brain. The primary proponent of this argument for the DI (and a frequent foil of my blog entries) is Michael Egnor, a creationist neurosurgeon. But the New Scientist article correctly points out that this is actually part of a larger movement and a larger strategy.

The Wedge Strategy

This current attack on neuroscience has the same underlying roots as the ID attack on evolution – the real enemy for ID proponents is materialism. The infamous Wedge document makes this clear in its opening paragraphs:

The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built. Its influence can be detected in most, if not all, of the West’s greatest achievements, including representative democracy, human rights, free enterprise, and progress in the arts and sciences.

Yet a little over a century ago, this cardinal idea came under wholesale attack by intellectuals drawing on the discoveries of modern science. Debunking the traditional conceptions of both God and man, thinkers such as Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud portrayed humans not as moral and spiritual beings, but as animals or machines who inhabited a universe ruled by purely impersonal forces and whose behavior and very thoughts were dictated by the unbending forces of biology, chemistry, and environment. This materialistic conception of reality eventually infected virtually every area of our culture, from politics and economics to literature and art.

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21 responses so far

Oct 13 2008

Artificial Consciousness

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My blog from last week on the upcoming Turing test provoked a great deal of interesting conversation in the comments – which is great. Short blog entries are often insufficient to fully explore a deep topic. Often I am just scratching the surface, and so there is often much more meat in the comments than the original post.

Some points came up in the comments that I thought would be good fodder for a follow up post.

Siener wrote:

Think about it this way: You are saying that a system can exists that acts like it is conscious, but unless it has some magical additive, some élan vital with absolutely zero affect on its behaviour it cannot be truly conscious.

That is not what I am saying at all.  From my many previous posts on the topic it is clear that I am not a dualist of any sort. I essentially agree with Daniel Dennet’s approach to the question of dualism. When I wrote that behavior alone is insufficient to determine if computer AI is conscious I was not referring to some magical extra ingredient, but a purely materialistic aspect of the AI itself.

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46 responses so far

Aug 15 2008

Persistent Vegetative State – From Schiavo to Egnor

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Last week I wrote an entry about the Terri Schiavo case, discussing a new published study criticizing the news reporting of this controversial case. The case involved the right to life of a woman in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) and the relative rights of her husband vs her parents to decide her care. Michael Egnor, a neurosurgeon who writes for the Evolution News & Views blog, and with whom I have had a long blog debate, mostly about dualism and the nature of consciousness, has responded to my post on Schiavo. Not surprisingly he has taken a different view of the case. He writes:

In my view, the political efforts to save Ms. Schiavo’s life were well-intentioned and completely justified. I believe that many of the medical opinions offered publicly by physicians who favored withdrawal of Ms. Schiavo’s hydration and nourishment were rank pseudoscience. What was done to Ms. Schiavo was an atrocity.

He also offers to have a blog discussion about the topic with me, writing:

A detailed and thoughtful public exchange of views about the Terri Schiavo case by two experts in neurological medicine—an academic neurologist and an academic neurosurgeon who have quite different opinions on this matter—would be very informative. The discussion could take the form of detailed exchanges between Dr. Novella and me on specific aspects of the case, such as the autopsy report, the neurological exams, the nature and reliability of the diagnosis of persistent vegetative state, and the ethical and political issues involved. This discussion extends to many of the issues involving the materialist inference in neuroscience that Dr. Novella and I have debated over the past year.

So here is my first installment. I will focus on the nature of persistent vegetative state and respond to some of the comments of Dr. Egnor.

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18 responses so far

Jun 27 2008

Egnor vs PZ Myers

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I toyed with the idea of staying away from this one. I have been writing quite a bit about Michael Egnor, a neuroscience and evolution denier who blogs for the Discovery Institute, and I try not to give too much attention to any one crank. I have focused on his nonsensical version of dualism (shocking for a neurosurgeon) and so was going to let PZ Myers and Orac deal with his latest bit of illogic – partly because Egnor is directly attacking PZ and because the topic is cancer treatment which is Orac’s specialty. They both did a fine job of deconstructing Egnor’s absurd claims.

But this is the NeuroLogica blog and there were a couple of logical nuances that PZ and Orac did not focus on, so I just couldn’t stay away.

Here is the bit I want to focus on:

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34 responses so far

Jun 18 2008

Away at TAM6

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I am away this week at The Amazing Meeting 6 in Las Vegas. This is the sixth annual meeting of the James Randi Educational Foundation, which has evolved into the meeting of the skeptical movement. For those of you who will be there, stop by and say hello. I will be conducting interview throughout the meetings. The Skeptics Guide will also be recording two live shows, from 8-9AM, Friday and Saturday morning. I will be giving a lecture Saturday morning on the similarities between creationism and cartesian dualism – pretty much a summary of my blogs on the topic.

I will still be posting my usual assortment of blogs here, at Science-Based Medicine, and the Rogues Gallery. However, I will not be as attentive to the comments as I usually am – so be a little patient.

Next week I will give you a report from the conference.


10 responses so far

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